‘No more Avengers.’ When Cyclops uttered those words at the end of last issue, we knew big things were coming this time. After all, he has the reality-changing power of the Phoenix, and his words echoed those of Wanda Maximoff, the Scarlet Witch, when she removed the powers of almost every mutant on Earth.
Let’s file this one under False Promises. It turns out that all Cyclops meant was that the X-Men would hunt down the Avengers so they can’t keep trying to wreck Project Utopia – enforced peace on Earth. So Round 7 of this event brings back the spats that filled earlier issues. The difference is that now the massively powered Scarlet Witch is at their side, the Avengers have someone even the Phoenix Five – Cyclops, Emma Frost, Namor, Magik and Colossus – are wary of.
The engine of this issue is Iron Man’s quest to understand the nature of both the Phoenix Force and Wanda’s energies. To this end, he asks Wanda ‘to stay focused on the data skews’, whatever the heck that means. Tony aims to use this information for a suicide attack on the Phoenix Five, to make up for having been instrumental in their gaining cosmic power. Fellow genius the Black Panther tells Tony that’s a rubbish solution and decides to consult the spirits of his ancestors. As you would.
To ‘buy time’ for Tony and T’challa to get some good ideas, Captain America sends the Avengers out to confront the quintet of Phoenixes. Wouldn’t it make more sense to stay out of sight rather than risk members against beings who can kill with a blink? One Avenger actually does fall this time, burnt to a crisp (though we’re immediately told he’ll be healed and thrown into Magik’s limbo penitentiary). Maybe the Avengers are after grabbing more data, but this has to be inferred from Tony having a eureka moment as Wanda fights Namor.
That’s Matt Fraction’s script for you. Several times I struggled to understand the story, as panel follows panel in a parade of headscratchers. Has Magick split into two after Wanda’s attack? How can Hawkeye’s arrow give the Phoenixed Emma pause? Why is Emma snogging Namor this time? Beats me, but as this book has six editors, it has to make sense, leading to the conclusion that I’m as thick as a brick rejected by a Marvel Architect.
There is one simply wonderful page, the opener, as the Phoenix Five get terribly bitchy about the Avengers. Other laudable moments include Cap yelling ‘Avengers scramble’ and Cyclops coming down firmly against murder. More of this please, and less of Dr Strange overusing the word ‘egress’ and the Vision running his sentences on.
Oh, and I demand that the Black Panther be defined by this moment for the next several decades.
I don’t know whether the art by Olivier Coipel (pencils), Mark Morales (inks) and Laura Martin (colours) is responsible for some of the story issues I have, but it looks wonderful. The individual characters, from Polaris in a very Scarlet Witch outfit (they’re long-lost half-sisters on alternate Tuesdays) to a be-vested Tony sitting amid a ton of litter as he collects that dang data, are striking. The battle sequences look impressive, even if the script means I can’t always parse them. And the closing tidal wave attack by Namor, while something we’ve seen many times, feels brand new.
This is a step down after the delights of last issue, but the art almost makes up for the choppy script.